On screen, the revenge film Mandy is a ferocious fever-dream, but off screen it has been a game-changing success story for SpectreVision, the production company founded by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller. The film has won over critics and a growing fan following since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and Wood now tells Deadline his company is sizing up an Oscar campaign for star Nicolas Cage.
“This is absolutely the most successful film and best-reviewed film we’ve made since we started this company eight years ago to focus on genre and horror films and to push the boundaries of what one considers those things to be,” said Wood, best known as the actor who portrayed the intrepid hobbit Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings films.
The film, directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), is a surreal, blood-soaked tale set in in Shadow Mountains of the Mojave Desert where it pits Cage’s character, a logger named Red Miller, against the Children of the New Dawn, a deviant hippie cult whose victims include Miller’s girlfriend (portrayed by Andrea Riseborough).
The project had been planned primarily as a VOD play (it now sits near the top of iTunes chart and is performing well across other VOD platforms), but it’s also showing unexpected vigor on the big screen. Since opening in theaters September 14, Mandy and has pulled in $840,000 domestically, an impressive showing considering it hit VOD the same date. The movie has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is now inspiring online fan tributes and cosplay with its surreal imagery (which includes an especially creepy imp called the Cheddar Goblin).
“There’s been a very minimal if anything as far as marketing spend and little if no P&A,” Wood said. “That’s the thing that has surprised us so much. This entire movement — with screenings selling out and theaters adding new dates to accommodate the groundswell of interest — that is purely on word-of-mouth and reviews. It’s an extraordinary grassroots kind of thing.”
The success of Mandy is allowing SpectreVision to up the ante on other projects in the production pipeline. The company is also mounting a posthumous Oscar campaign for the film’s composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson (previously nominated for The Theory of Everything and Sicario), who died in February.
And, after watching the film’s reception, SpectreVision is now petitioning their distributor, the Chatsworth-based RLJE Films, about putting funding toward a second campaign that promotes Cage as a nominee in the Oscar Best Actor category.
Cage won an Oscar for portraying a despairing drunkard in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas; he earned a second nomination playing a heartsick screenwriter in Adaptation (2002). A Hollywood mainstay since the Reagan era, Cage has made more than 90 films since his 1982 debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This year is the 35th anniversary of his first starring role which came in Valley Girl.
“What was so exciting for us about Nic being in this film and being within a world of Panos’ creation is the opportunity to highlight so much of what makes him extraordinary as an actor,” Wood said. “It’s an intensely emotional performance and it really is a journey that he goes on. I think that’s what is really resonating with people.”
Wood spoke with Deadline late last week from Texas, where he was attending Fantastic Fest, the annual Austin event that attracts devoted genre-film fans — the same constituency that views Cage as something of a beloved cinematic hot-mess after years of over-the-top performances. There’s no end to online memes that lampoon Cage and his oddball energy in films like Mom and Dad. Wood acknowledged the appeal of the parodies, but he said Mandy may refocus the smirking perception of Cage.
“All of that with the memes is obviously super-fun and it’s one of the elements that we love most about Nic Cage,” Wood said. “But he is also an extraordinary actor and one capable of emotional depth and subtlety across the entire spectrum. We are so pleased that is coming across with Mandy. I think, yes, there are some people who occasionally go to the cinema to see a Nic Cage movie for this ‘rage Cage’ thing, which is a little silly. What’s great with this movie is it kind of subverts all of that. People may come in for the ‘rage Cage’ but what they get is something much broader. People have been really moved by what he has done in the movie.”
Wood and Cage met and bonded while acting opposite of each other in The Trust, the 2016 crime film that paired them up as corrupt cops plotting a drug heist. Wood marveled at the veteran star’s fiery zeal for collaboration and eagerness to work with gifted newcomers. With that in mind Wood gave his fellow actor a copy of Cosmatos’ breakthrough film, Beyond the Black Rainbow. “He fell in love with it. But he couldn’t sleep for a week.”
Mandy was produced by SpectreVision, XYZ Films, and Umedia. The project was financed by Umedia and Piccadilly Pictures with additional support from Wallimage and Legion M.